Magazine

Talking Shop Till You Drop


By Kerry Sulkowicz, M.D. When my wife comes home at the end of the day, all she can do is talk about work -- the people she's talked to, the office politics, the personalities. It's a major theme throughout the evening. I'm not particularly interested, but I feel I'd be unsupportive if I told her so. She obviously needs an outlet for all this. Should I tell her I don't care? If so, how can I do it delicately? -- J.K., Ridgefield, Conn.

For some people, work is what's most fulfilling, and part of their pleasure comes from sharing it with a loved one. That's O.K. up to a point. Perhaps you're the only one she can do that with, so within reason it's a form of intimacy. (Indeed, for most couples, the absence of any conversation about work would be problematic.) But when it's consuming, when talk about work takes up a big chunk of private life, the spouse who's the sounding board can feel neglected. It might be useful to think about whether you're giving her any reason to distance herself from you. Is it possible that she's investing all that emotional energy in work as a way of avoiding something closer with you? The subtext of her monologues could be that she's not getting enough from you.

You're right that telling her you don't care would hurt her. It would also shut off more of the kind of communication you want. How about picking a moment to say something like, "I know you've got a lot going on at work, and it's great that you care so much about it, but I'm starting to feel left out. I want to hear about it, but anything I want to say about me, or us, just feels like an interruption." That's the gist of what I'd try to convey. But don't take it as a script. It should sound like you.

My boss feels free to come into my office without regard to what I'm doing. She doesn't knock or say anything more than a cursory "excuse me" and then interrupts me. Or she says, "Are you busy?" and proceeds before I can answer her. I find this disruptive, annoying, and disrespectful. How can I tell her to stop, or is this something I just have to live with? -- L.M.K., Groton, Conn.

There's a power differential between you and your boss, of course, and it's quite understandable that this inhibits you. But if you just suffer in silence, you're abetting the bad behavior. You're also more likely to respond in a passive-aggressive or some other indirect way that could hurt you and your professional reputation. Try explaining to her that while you like the fact that she feels comfortable in approaching you informally, a lot of unannounced visits get in the way of your performance. Then perhaps suggest a plan for checking in regularly with each other throughout the day.

Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D., a psychoanalyst and founder of the Boswell Group, advises executives on psychological aspects of business. Send him questions at analyzethis@businessweek.com


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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